Friday, April 26, 2013

Walking the Way

Paul Adams

In a couple of hours (DV), I will be on my way to Barcelona and thence to join the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in northern Spain, with my adult daughter Katryn.  That means there will be a three-week hiatus in my blog.

I have been asked about blogging the experience day by day.  I expect to write about it when I return but there are several reasons not to do it day by day.  One of them is that there is a very fine blog of that kind already by a father, Webster Bull, who walked the whole 500 miles of the camino with his adult daughter last year.  It is beautifully done and fascinating.  Father and daughter respectively are ten years younger than me and my daughter, so their experiences were inevitably different but his troubles sleeping in the albergues certainly reinforced my determination to bring a large supply of ear-plugs.

Each day's post is linked to the next so you can read it like an e-book.  I was reassured by his observation that, despite expecting to feel a certain superiority to those who joined the pilgrimage, as we will, at Sarria, the last place on the French route you can do so and still put in the 100 km you need to get a certificate--but he found that many of these pilgrims were Spaniards with jobs and families using their vacation to do a religious pilgrimage.  That gave him a fresh respect for them, since both he and his daughter are serious Catholics, whereas many who do the whole camino--as we know from The Way (the movie with Martin Sheen) are non-religious, spiritual-but-not-religious, or even anti-Catholic.

A favorite part of the blog is the account of their time in Santiago de Compostela, including this anecdote from June 18, 2012, about Pope Benedict XVI.  It starts like this:
In Seattle you have the Space Needle, in Paris the Eiffel Tower. In Santiago de Compostela, the number-one tourist attraction seems to be the Botafumeiro, the giant censer propelled on a pendulum swing by six rope-pulling stewards and spewing scented smoke in front of the altar before the final blessing, especially at SRO pilgrim masses. It's a sensation, hurtling on its trapeze like a death-defying circus artist or a space capsule out of control. 
It's most of what you hear about. A couple from Holland here on holiday asked me during the Spain-Croatia soccer match tonight if I had seen the Botafumeiro yet. A fellow pilgrim and a Protestant complained to me that the Botafumeiro was "too commercial," and proved his point by standing with hundreds of other gawkers to snap still and video images when it swung into action at the end of noon mass on Sunday. When the giant, flaming ball was wrestled to earth by a courageous caped attendant, the cathedral broke into applause. Before giving us his final blessing, the celebrant made the best of an awkward moment by saying that he hoped we were applauding the Lord and not the Botafumeiro. 
A pilgrim who had been following Webster's blog as it unfolded and who was on pilgrimage at the same time, told him that
when the Pope was in Santiago a couple of years ago, everyone was eager to see his reaction to the Botafumeiro. Some thought he would look up in wonder. Some thought he might even gesture approvingly. 
Instead, our Pope kept his head lowered in prayer throughout the swinging, which lasts at least 45 seconds. He never looked, never flinched. He just waited for the censing to be done with, then delivered his blessing. 
I have concluded, and this anecdote reinforces my conclusion, that it is impossible to make a proper judgment of the Catholic Church without having lived inside it seriously. Few have lived longer or more deeply inside the faith than Pope Benedict.

To all my fellow peregrinos, I wish buen camino.  See you soon.

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